Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Collaboration Done Well...

Our district watched a movie last year that focused on bringing the institution of education into the 21st century. It was enlightening and provoked a number of collegial questions and personal reflections. Here is the latest version of the movie, which is only 5 minutes instead of 9.

I remember watching it the first time; I liked it. It drew me in. I even remember watching it a few times because it was so interesting. But there was also something that struck me as "propagandish" or "indoctrinating" about it. (Yes, I'm making up words, now.) I agree wholeheartedly with some of the foundation of the movie. I believe that educators need to stay in touch with their students' lives—learn how they learn, prepare them to teach themselves, use what they know to help them construct new knowledge or correct misconceptions, and prepare them to think critically and compassionately through life's journey outside the school walls. So why would a movie designed to inspire teachers to do that make me hesitate?

I think I may have figured out a part of it over the past couple months. I have given a few presentations on Collaboration/Community-Building to pre-service and new teachers lately. It seems that some essential steps are missing when teachers try to do collaborative activities. They are using technology as a replacement for student-student interactions, and it is obvious that the skills needed to work with others have not yet been appropriately modeled; the scaffolding is missing. I observed and listened to teachers talk about how they were using Powerpoints, wikis, blogs, Google docs, and even e-mail as tools for communication. And although this might sound progressive, there were some tragic missteps along the way.

There were a myriad of problems, from tech issues to an uneven distribution of labor to poor product quality to limited inspiration. Most of these are typical problems encountered any time you put students together to work on a project, whether technology is involved or not. There was an essential "mechanical" piece missing; students had no idea how to problem-solve, troubleshoot their way through the hurdles. I had serious concerns when students in one class couldn't put a face to an e-mail; most students didn't even know one anothers' names in the same classroom!

These types of mistakes happen in both beginning and veteran teachers' classrooms. I was shocked at how many of these issues seemed to stem from teachers saying they were "strongly encouraged to implement technology" into their classrooms. Educators need to hold true to best practice education. Teacher leaders should focus on mentoring faculty through collaboration and how to effectively implement this methodology in the classroom. For instance, model it as a department, committee or school. Have teachers observe you in the classroom implementing a workshop, jigsaw, round robin or any other common collaborative activity. They'll see how important it is to teach the basics, such as how to ask a question. ("You should ask, 'Can you teach me how to do number 1? Can you show me where to find an example for number 1?' But you shouldn't be asking, 'What's the answer to number 1?'") Or teach them how to talk appropriately to one another. ("How you say something is as important as what you say. So use the proper tone and language.") Or illustrate how to debate ideas and not attack individuals. ("You should be asking, 'What evidence can you use to support that argument?' You should not be saying, 'That's stupid. My idea makes more sense!'") Once participants have gone through the activity, illustrate how important feedback is to the growth of the community. ("Here's what you did well. Here's what we need to improve on.") All the while, whether done in a professional or classroom setting, the observant teacher will get to see the important pieces of collaboration in action. They'll watch people interacting and learn from their behaviors. They will begin to instinctually understand the benefits of collaboration. The addition of the technology tools to potentially improve collaboration will also be better understood. What's more, the reason for using the new tool will be much more apparent because the foundation is in place. Practicing in a manner that allows you and the students to interact with one another is a critical learning piece for everyone in the community.

Teaching students and/or other teachers how to interact constructively together towards achieving a common goal is an objective that is imperative for all areas of life. And it is these interpersonal skills that are needed to develop a sense of self, to reflect and grow. And they can never be replaced by technology. But technology can be used to enhance them, if implemented correctly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Relevance and Authenticity

I had the privilege of attending the Hellenic Museum's Fall Gala Sunday night at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago. It was a formal affair, filled with an incredibly attentive wait staff, delicious food, beautiful tables and lots of VIPs. It was probably one of the fanciest evenings I'll ever experience, and yes, the majority of the people who attended were very financially secure. But I was even more impressed with how highly educated, passionate and sincere the attendees were.

We were invited to this dinner to celebrate a number of things, but the focus for us was the the announcement of the project that Spiro and his teaching partner, Dean, will be doing. They proposed a project which will focus on the Greek Civil War. At the dinner, it was announced that the museum is allocating funds to make their project a reality. So now the work begins!

As I listened to Dean and Spiro explain their ideas to the dinner attendees, I was fascinated by how interested the listeners were. They had stories to add, were willing to help facilitate the process, and were thrilled that this project will involve a curricular piece for high schools and universities. Dean and Spiro would like to include more than just the traditional Ancient Greek teachings in our history courses. Greece should still be considered a tremendous influence, not just a country with an influential past.

It was the conversation Spiro had with the Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus, Andreas Kakouris, that really caught my attention. They were excitedly throwing ideas back and forth on how to make this particular piece of history come to life in the classroom. His Excellency said things like, "Cyprus is a test case. We are a country where Muslims and Christians live side by side, and it's in our constitution..." Of course, the content mostly escaped me as I am a chemistry teacher, but I followed the big picture. They were trying to make the stories relevant and authentic for our students. They were making history come to life in front of me. If I had had teachers like that in high school, I might very well be a history teacher today!

It is these types of impromptu, passionate conversations that have always enhanced my teaching and rekindled my curiosity. It is so fulfilling to brainstorm the "how and why" of our curriculum and the stories that make it come to life. It happens in those moments where a friend's experience is brought up at lunch and the idea sparks a lesson plan idea. So what should we do to promote more of these discussions? On the ride home from this dinner, I realized how important it is to keep involved with our content, to grow in our understanding of science, particularly the science of today, of our everyday lives. These stories invariably end up being the most intriguing for us and our students.

I know how difficult it is to keep up with reading current journal articles, as my days and evenings already have too much filling the hours. So I've had to figure out a way to stay involved in science without spreading myself too thin. Here are some examples of what some teachers are doing to keep the science alive. Perhaps this will spark ideas that might work for your individual schedule.

•It's exciting to hear about teachers going to opportunities to connect with the world of science, things like Science Cafe and the Field Museum Educators' Open House. When you see a conference or activity in your mailbox, consider attending as a group.
•Perhaps using an aggregator to subscribe to specific blogs or articles that interest you might save you time, while still keeping you informed with current science investigations. This is where I found a wonderful site, Science Debate 2008 that showed scientists being interviewed, discussing why the topic of science was important for our future elected officials. And this particular subscription, science blogs, has all branches of science being written up.
• I enjoy downloading podcasts and listening to them as I jog/workout. I particularly like NPR Science Friday. The podcasts are short, interesting and span the spectrum of science fields.
• I also feel lucky to have a friend who is a scientist. Talking through the planning and development of new class projects has aided in my own understanding of what professional scientists do and helps me create lessons that are meaningful for my students. Perhaps one of your students has a parent who is a professional scientist. This might be a place to start.
• And then there are teachers who regularly participate in the process of science by doing research at local universities or in industry. Listening to them, reading about their stories perhaps may inspire you.
• I, too, have enjoyed being enlightened by participating in the world of science education research. Investigating how students learn, what they learn and why has given me a knew perspective on curricular development.

Relevance. Authenticity. Making science come to life. This is what makes science interesting. This is how we get students to engage in science conversations. This is how we bring science to life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Beacon for Understanding—Blog Action Day 2008

Poverty can be defined in many different ways. The stories being shared across the blog community certainly attest to that. What do we need to do to prevent and correct the global crisis of poverty? I don't know. But if we each do something, it will certainly help.

For me, in my fairy-tale life, I have never personally experienced anything close to any conceivable definition of poverty. My story, instead, begins in a small town in the northern gateway of the Hudson Highlands in the 1940s, a city called Beacon, New York. The US census states that the population during that time was 12,572. My father was part of that count. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents, siblings and maternal Grandmother. He was/is the oldest of four children. The stories he shares about his first fifteen years in Beacon would warm the hearts of any who are privileged to be on the receiving end of his colorful narratives. They are especially fun to hear when he breaks out in his Irish brogue, mimicking his Grandfather Neil's accent. But one thing that threads through these stories is that his family was monetarily poor. Very, very poor.

The Gallaghers lived simply. Not by choice, but by circumstance. A week's worth of garbage would fill one brown paper bag. They would then bring it outside to burn it; that was their method of disposal. Dad and siblings received only a few Christmas gifts each year. It would drive my Grandma crazy when my dad would only open one gift on Christmas day, saving the others for a future date. "If I have to wait until next year, I think I'll spread these out over time." Dad's family has those made-for-movie, universal stories: each family member having only two pairs of shoes—one for Sunday, one for school; the occasional rodent or two taking up residence in the family apartment; the make-shift dinners, putting together the scraps saved from the beginning of the week; family members serving in the war; the protective nature of small groups of family and friends checking up on one another, helping out whenever needed. I've always pictured Beacon as the poor, blue-collar Mayberry.

My father's father—Grandpa Bill to me—worked as a pressman for Nabisco and a volunteer fireman during the 40s. He had an eighth-grade education. My dad tells me he was the brightest man he ever met, and very well-respected by all. He put in a hard day's work, every single day, to put food on the table. Blood, sweat and will. This comes as no surprise considering he came from a family of twenty; yes, twenty. Working hard for the good of a household community, no matter the size, was nothing new to my Grandpa. When he grew up, any money earned by a family member went into the general fund for family survival. So the first money my Grandpa could call his own was his first week's paycheck after getting married. Saying that my Grandparents had meager beginnings is obviously an understatement.

From time to time, my Grandpa Bill would parade my father around town and say, "This is my son. One day, he'll be going to college." I'm certain that the recipients of this message were hesitant; if history was any indicator, the chances were slim that college would be in my dad's future. But my Grandpa was certain. At least he acted that way. It was the message he chose to send to his son. Knowing my father the way I do, he was lucky to have the father he did. My dad was an academic, a scholar. He would've been miserable without the intellectual challenges offered in college.

The person I've grown to be, all the good and bad, has certainly been borne out of my father's childhood poverty, as strange as that may sound. But it was also borne out of the riches of his family upbringing and what he passed on to us. The two are intertwined. One of the many things I have learned from stories about my grandfather is that you earn respect by being respectful. It is a core tenet of my teaching philosophy. I have also learned that family is everything. My family always has been and always will be extremely close. There's nothing more comforting.

I recall relatively recently my father and uncle were talking, being nostalgic. While watching their combined eight children reminisce and nineteen, healthy and happy grandchildren play, they reflected on how blessed they felt. My uncle said, "You know, Bill. We done good, wouldn't you say? But there's one gift we can never give them." My dad asked, "What's that?" "The gift of poverty," my uncle said. "That's for damn sure, Bob. That's for damn sure."

Knowing their stories, growing up under their guidance, I think I understand what my uncle meant. And I'm a richer, wiser person because of it.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Getting Through the First Five Years

Working with new teachers can be very exciting, particularly if you find yourself mentoring anLesson No. enthusiastic, intelligent new hire. It is an incredibly refreshing experience. If only I knew then what I know now! I've been teaching for close to two decades now, and I have grown to thoroughly appreciate observing the process of new teachers innovating, implementing and reflecting on their lessons. It refreshes my teaching, and I feel I'm able to offer them a foundation of strength to get through the draining first few years.

It is well-known in the education community that the teaching profession has an unusually high turnover rate. There are a host of reasons for this, including job dissatisfaction, organizational characteristics, and insufficient pay. These, along with many other causes, are not easy fixes. The political, economic and societal quandaries are severely entrenched. But we must continue to engage in conversation that might permeate these deep-seeded problems and finally resolve our turnover crisis.

In the mean time, what can be done to help keep talented teachers in the classroom while the foundation is rebuilt? The place to start is with authentic mentoring programs. (I'm actually not a fan of the word "mentoring" since it so often conjures up the image of "administrative training" more than true teacher guidance.) Effective, meaningful mentorship can be done within a given building and it begins with strong, inspirational, compassionate and passionate curricular and content specialists leading the way. In my opinion, it starts with the principal.

It is no mystery that the teaching strategies that are effective in the classroom also work well when nurturing teacher growth. I have worked with a large number of mentors, department chairs, cooperative teachers, and student-teacher supervisors over the past five years to help develop effective ways of welcoming new teachers to a given department. (Just as an aside, one common conversation we have deals with communicating the difference between lesson plans and curriculum. This, I'm afraid, is another blog!)

Authentic guidance requires a continual dialogue focused on teacher reflection and growth. Of course a new teacher is going to worry about mechanics and administrative tasks. Talk them through those. But we must keep the meat of the conversation on what teaching strategies will help to create a constructive learning community and build a positive rapport with students. "Why are you doing what you're doing? Is it working? What will you do differently? Why? etc." These are the same questions that veteran teachers use to explore new horizons. Starting this process early on will aid in a new teacher's growth from the very beginning.

Nurturing new teachers through the first few years of the profession, welcoming them into a new school community can be a fabulous adventure. It refreshes our teaching; it rekindles our desire to push the envelope; it forces us to reflect on our practice. As we model how complex and enlightening and rewarding and fun teaching can be, perhaps we might be able to keep a few more teachers in the profession as they grow to realize just how important this calling, their calling, is.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Singular Global Conversation

I've always dreamed of being a part of one serious conversation. To listen to different perspectives. To reflect on personal stories. To synthesize and analyze unique information. To be involved with dialogue that might actually lead to constructive change. How exciting this is! I can't wait!

I know that for many educators this might not be directly related to the particular content area being taught. But it seems that as global citizens, having connections to some of these important conversations can only enhance our teaching. We also teach the future. We teach the future. Isn't that an incredibly potent statement? It's also a great deal of responsibility. Our students will someday have the opportunity, means and/or desire to make sincere social change. The topic of poverty certainly falls into an area that needs our attention.

Thanks, Ryan Bretag, for sharing this!

Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

I teach in an affluent, Chicago suburb. The students have every opportunity available to them; it's been my experience that most of them realize it and are appreciative of it, at least in their own way. The community is extremely supportive of building a strong academic environment. I work closely with some of the finest educators in the world, in my opinion. This is a home away from home for me; my colleagues are like family. They are a highly gifted group, creating progressive programs, implementing cutting-edge curriculum, founding revolutionary organizations and imagining a future for our student body unlike anything I've ever seen. But the building is large and these movements are isolated. It's very difficult to make meaningful connections with people in other departments. Time, as always, is the greatest barrier to coming together as a teaching faculty and putting our thoughtful, caring ideas together into one foundational dream. Wouldn't it be great if we could all take a one-year sabbatical and work together to bring about true school reform?

For educators who teach in a similar community and who work with an equally gifted staff, I have been reading a moving and informative book called The Price of Privilege, a book I think could be a possible catalyst in planning meaningful school changes. The book raises the idea that it's easy to dismiss the struggles of students in these types of communities as the "whinings" of spoiled children. But Madeline Levine takes a close look at this initial, inaccurate conclusion, and puts an enlightening analysis on the situation. These students are more often than not, and for a host of reasons, finding it difficult to develop a sense of self during their middle school and high school years.

"As long as kids are not afforded the opportunity to craft a sense of self that feels authentic, a sense of self that truly comes from within, psychologists will continue to see more and more youngsters at risk for profound feelings of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and emptiness."

As a parent
, I came to the devastating realization that I readily make the mistake of removing the struggle from my own children too often and too easily. I find myself wanting to help at every turn. My girls need to go through some of life's challenges in order to learn who they are and what they have to offer. I need to learn to get out of their way. Teaching is much easier than parenting!
As a teacher, I found it reassuring to read that some of the methods I have implemented in my classroom and taught to other science educators are indeed a constructive part of our students' growth. I find it easy, and fun, to give students the opportunity to grapple or struggle with a new concept until they've worked together long enough to make sense out of it. But these are isolated, classroom examples. We should be revisiting the development of a foundational, district-wide educational philosophy—teach the whole child.

But until we truly understand the whole child, we cannot teach the whole child.

Although I have not finished reading, I find myself having trouble keeping quiet about this book. Yes, there are moments where the "message" in the book is so repetitive, it seems as if brainwashing is at play. But stepping back, I realize that breaking a long-held, public opinion—that these students "have it made"—requires a bit of repetition to allow the formation of a new idea to emerge. Namely that this particular group of students does need help, guidance, and nurturing, just as every child does. That their privilege alone will not carry them through these adolescent years; in fact, it does create a new set of psychological problems with which we need to be in tune.

Collectively reading a book like this, having lengthy, educated and well-facilitated discussions about improving our educational focus—building this foundational dream—would be a great place to begin true reform at a district like mine. I wonder if something like that has been elsewhere...I feel as though the one-day workshops, thematic weeks, isolated guest speakers and occasional spirit-filled assemblies will not provide the sweeping, innovative changes needed to make a difference, or to prevent the increasing psychological challenges our children face. I do not believe we should remove these traditional school experiences, but having them rooted in a community (dare I say) vision would make these exercises more meaningful for the students. I think it would be valuable
to examine our teaching paradigm in these types of communities, bringing the loving, well-intentioned, highly educated parents in on the conversation. We should all read this book (or something better?), together...and see where it leads us.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Science Debate 2008

With the 2008 election only 7 weeks away, the anticipation is building. It's a time when emotions run high, opinions run deep and the media creates news on a minute-by-minute basis. It's also a very exciting time, as evidenced by the multiple topics of conversation ignited during lunch, over dinner, at sporting events, and yes, even in our classrooms.

One concerned citizens initiative— cosponsored by the AAAS, the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and over 175 leading American universities and other organizations—is calling for a serious discussion to take place between the candidates with regards to pressing science issues. Over a dozen leading scientists were interviewed on film describing why they believe this debate needs to happen. These mini films are extremely informative. Francesca Grifo, Director of Science Integrity Program, voices many of my immediate concerns with regards to information I have been desperately seeking in our national leaders.

The Science Debate 2008 initiative also asked both presidential candidates to answer questions relating to these concerns. Their responses, along with a more detailed background to this initiative, can be found at the Science Debate 2008 site.

As science educators, it is all but certain that our students will be curious about how science fits in with the national election, particularly when it comes to the environment and future technology. With that in mind, a comprehensive site illustrating the differences between the candidates' positions can be found at the home page for Science Debate 2008.

Other sites have also collected information with regards to our presidential candidates and their science positions. McCain's campaign site has published his position. Obama's campaign site does the same. A New York Times article was also published with a focus on science and technology. And information can also be found at the Physics Today blog.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Collaboration, NECC 2008 and The Future

There’s something thrilling that I have been a part of for the past 14 years. I get to witness 26 individual students transform themselves into a comfortable, constructive, self-sufficient scientific community of learners each year and in every class. (Describing how this goal is accomplished and the research behind it is quite detailed and outside the scope of this blog, but I will be sharing very soon!) The development of these communities, the bonds that form between my students year after year, is affirmation enough for me to keep the heart of my classroom something called Whole Class Inquiry (WCI).

My colleague, friend and co-author, Dr. Dennis Smithenry, and I have been working together for fourteen years. In that time, we have developed a rather unique science curriculum. The majority of our inquiry-based class time involves the entire class working together to accomplish a given task, hence the term Whole Class Inquiry (WCI).

I was amazed to be at a technology conference (NECC 2008) where three of the sessions I attended sincerely focused on the human angle of technology—the presenters really wanted to do what was best for kids. And I was even more excited to hear and/or see the connection between each session and our unique collaborative approach to science education. These presenters included David Jakes and Dean Shareski (Powerpoint Kills), Konrad Glogowski (Blogging Communities in the Classroom), and James Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds).

The keynote speaker James Surowiecki shared his thoughts regarding the wisdom of crowds. Author and historian, he stated that a group of people is often much wiser than any one person in the group, in fact smarter than the smartest person in the room. He mentioned that the structure of the crowd is a crucial component. In order to benefit from the wisdom of a crowd, it must be composed of cognitively diverse (at least) individuals. They also must possess unique problem-solving strategies. And lastly, to enhance the intelligence of the group, you must assign the role of devil’s advocate to a member of the group during discussion. To keep the group honest, this role should be rotated between group members.

Surowiecki’s anecdotes and research statistics were perfectly tailored to the education community. I was thrilled to put further foundation to the claim Dennis and I have been making about the benefits of our Whole Class Inquiry approach. And I learned about certain technological tools that will allow me to improve on this strategy, particularly blogging. His stories also affirmed my belief that we should rethink tracking our children into regular, honors and introductory levels at Glenbrook North High School. I would love to pilot the idea of a mixed-level chemistry course.

Konrad Glogowski’s talk on blogging communities was the perfect follow-up to Surowiecki’s keynote. Unfortunatley, I was unable to attend his actual session as it was closed, but I did get to see it on a USTREAM. It is definitely worth a look!

Glogowski shared his research and practice on creating a digital “third space” by implementing blogs. He stated that a solid blogging community promotes a safe space of interaction. To make blogs a truly beneficial experience for the classroom community, they must be implemented in a manner that allows:

1. the opportunity for expressing voices and creativity.
2. the students the freedom to customize their online presence.
3. the creation of a place that is easily accessible.
4. the students a welcoming space where they have the freedom to interact/network in any way they feel comfortable.

I have long since been a proponent of science journals, having given a number of presentations on how to use them as a tool for learning and for developing the comfort level necessary to create a strong community. But I see the advantage of moving a bit of what I do into the digital medium. Student blogs will be a new element to my classroom this year and I’m eager to see the outcome. (I obviously have some work to do in the area of modeling “blogging brevity,” though.) I am thrilled that this session, along with my conversations with Spiro Bolos, gave me a firm grasp of the benefits and pedagogy behind blogging. I feel ready to begin!

Lastly, David Jakes and Dean Shareski discussed the idea of giving students the tools necessary to improve their communication skills, particularly with respect to giving presentations. Part of developing a strong class community requires each student believe that s/he has value. In allowing students the opportunity to share their stories, we get to know them, see what they have to offer the group and build on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Modeling artistic, educationally sound presentations, along with creating digital stories, will continue to be a focus of mine. Jakes’ and Shareski’s ideas on giving students the tools for better expression will further promote a comfortable classroom connection between classmates. And I'm also eager to model this idea for my science department colleagues. I would like to create some examples that illustrate the advantages for using a presentation tool, rather than simply having a Powerpoint be a glorified overhead.

I'm thrilled that David Jakes will be joining the Glenbrook ranks this year. I am eager to have more discussions with regard to education, to make new connections with people as passionate as those described above, and to see the benefits these new friendships will bring to the classroom. With Jakes' experience and connections, along with those of Ryan Bretag, I see a positive transformation potential for the district's educational technology vision. And dare I say, I'm eager to start building these communities in August!
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Down Time @ NECC 2008

While in San Antonio attending NECC 2008, my husband and I intermittently ventured off the beaten path in search of quiet respite from the highly populated convention center hub. We landed in one area called Market Square. It had the token tourist shops, to be certain. But there were local musicians playing as we ate tacos and fajitas from two street vendors. Delicious! We then visited the Museo Alameda, the first formal affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute and, as stated on their website, considered “an important national icon symbolizing the contributions of Latinos to the cultural heritage of our country.” I highly recommend it; gorgeous and informative!

We had a few more amazing meals during our stay. We ate dinner at
Boudros on the Riverwalk. Lovely meal. Another evening we went to Rosario’s for some fabulous fajitas. We also found a quaint spot for breakfast called the Guenther House, the 1859 home of the founder of the Pioneer Flour. The mill is next door and is the oldest running family-owned mill in the country. We had homemade biscuits and gravy, pancakes and fresh fruit. We then walked back to the conference through beautiful neighborhoods. In that walk, we happened upon a spot called La Vallita, a quiet nest of art galleries exhibiting local artists’ work.

As my purpose for this trip was to bring back curricular technology ideas to share with my colleagues, I found these moments of adventure through San Antonio quite beneficial, and even necessary. Firstly, we were fortunate enough to have dinner with colleagues for two of the nights—from
New Trier High School and Glenbrook North High School. It is too rare an occasion that we get to connect and learn each other’s stories outside the work setting. It was such a treat to meet/socialize with these wonderful people.

Secondly, the down time between conference sessions gave my husband and I the chance to process the information that we had just experienced. As the
cognitive load theory suggests, there’s only so much my brain can handle at once. I feel I constructed some useful ideas during these moments away, and I developed better curricular implementation goals having used my husband as a sounding board.

I guess time will tell. In the mean time, it was a wonderful trip! My sincere thanks to
Ryan Bretag and the Glenbrook High Schools Board of Education for allowing me this growth.
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The Benefits of NECC 2008

From Vygotsky to Mickey Mouse, the dialogue has spanned a wide spectrum here at NECC 2008. I consider myself a veteran national conference attendee and presenter, but this was my first time attending “neck.” When coming to these grand galas, I’ve found it’s crucial to be mentally prepared—stay open-minded to finding new ideas and having organic conversations, but be critical of the hypnotic, corporate pull. As I pack my bags to leave, I honestly feel I accomplished that goal and have come away with some wonderful connections to bring to all areas of my work—teaching, writing, leading.

I will spend time blogging about all the influential sessions I was able to attend, but for now, I will share that the most valuable experience I had here at NECC was having a large block of focused time to set up some new technology-based curricular tools for my classroom. My ability to accomplish this was in large part due to my husband, Spiro Bolos, also being in attendance. His expertise with technology was incredibly beneficial as I created a few new pathways for learning, including this blog.

My goal of creating a self-sufficient scientific community of learners by using whole class inquiry is the cornerstone of everything I do in the classroom, and has been instrumental in providing a model for my work as a teacher leader and author. I have wanted to experiment using other tools for obtaining this overall goal. My experiences here at NECC gave me the time and the connections to start this journey.
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